Dancing bees evaluate central urban forage resources as superior to agricultural land.

Published online
15 Feb 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Samuelson, A. E. & Schürch, R. & Leadbeater, E.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
UK & England


Recent evidence suggests that flower-rich areas within cities could play an important role in pollinator conservation, but direct comparison of floral resources within agricultural and urban areas has proved challenging to perform over large scales. Here we use the waggle dances of honeybees Apis mellifera L. to perform large-scale landscape surveys at heavily urban or agricultural sites for a key pollinator of wild and crop plants. We analysed 2,827 dances that were performed by 20 colonies in SE England. We show that hive median foraging trip distance is consistently lower at urban sites across the entire season. The sucrose content of collected nectar did not significantly differ between urban and agricultural land, ruling out the possibility that longer foraging distances in agricultural sites were driven by distant but nectar-rich resources. Within cities, bees preferentially targeted residential areas on foraging trips, while trips to mass-flowering crops overwhelmingly dominated at agricultural sites. For both land-use types, distances flown increased in the summer, but there was high variation in temporal patterns between individual sites. Policy implications. From the self-reported perspective of a generalist pollinator, forage was easier to find in heavily urbanized areas than in the modern agricultural landscapes that we studied. A focus on continuous spatial and temporal provision within agricultural environments is key to redressing this imbalance.

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